Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My Life Story: My Evolving Birth Story

It was always with great dramatics I was told my birth story. I was born during a huge snowstorm in Denver. The cars were packed on the roads, steaming and stuck. Snow was hanging off of every branch and fence post. Snow, snow, everywhere snow. My mother watched it from her window at the Swedish Hospital, even though we were clearly Norwegian...
My mother gave birth to me without medication, and with horrible back labor, after many hours I emerged, eight pounds and five ounces. A group paramedics asked if they could observe my birth for training services. In my mind those paramedics were like the shepherds at the creche. They represented the good men of earth who showed up to watch something holy happen. In my mind, it was simply seraphic.
But last night, on my couch in the front room, my own baby cooing and drooling on my chest I started to think about my mother and my birth and that snowstorm and everything changed.

First of all, I was born on March 11, this means the epic snowstorm that swept me into mortality was one of those spring snowstorms, heavy and wet and entirely unwelcome. As far as seasons go, by March 11th, no one wants to wake up to a snow with its added frustration of travel and expense. By March 11 we crave birds and blossoms, yellow, waving tulips and brave blades of seaweedy grass.
I picked up my phone and called my mother to ask specifics,
"Oh well," said my mother about the storm, "I thought it was exciting."
"Of course," I replied "it was the very thing that put you in labor, wasn't it?"
"Actually," she corrected me, "I was two days over due so it was decided I would be induced."
"I was induced?" I said, understanding what that meant being somewhat a veteran of birthing myself.
"Yes, and it was horrible, your labor was one of the worst I ever had."
She was wheeled in, hooked up to IVs and with chemicals running through her veins she pushed for hours until I reluctantly made my way out of her body. There was actually no feelings of sanctity or holiness, my mother admitted to me last night, it wasn't the glorified event I had secured in my mind. My mother felt lonely and scared, cursed with no options but to fight her body until the end. Last night, as I connected the dots in my mind, aware of what these emotions and terms mean with this version of my birth story, I am so grateful my mother is willing to be honest about it. She's telling me exactly like it was in her mind, no longer needing to appease my childhood cravings of wonder. I was born with pain and anguish. I was born when it was convenient timing for someone, though I don't think it was my mother's. And it certainly wasn't mine.
After an hour on the phone I hung up and handed Chup my baby who he bounced and cradled in his arms while I recounted my birth.
"No wonder inductions make you sad," he said.
While I understand the need for inductions in high risk situations my heart always breaks when I hear of them as normal procedure. I want to feel like I can trust my body with its innate knowledge of timing and truth. But even more than that, I don't want to rob my baby of the first gift of mortality: agency. If I were to induce my body into labor I would send a message of distrust to both me and my baby. Birth is not about control, it's about something so much bigger than control.
"No wonder I was a horrible baby," I said to Chup, my mind reeling in these new discoveries. "I'm sure some babies don't mind the chemical push, but that sort of thing would've just made me mad."
"It still makes you mad," Chup said standing up, taking the baby to bed.
I thought about my mother's experience in childbirth and I thought about my own. I thought about how it's frustrating these days to have an opinion about birth, there's a fear that being passionate about labor choices makes you somewhat of a birthing bigot. But at least I live in a day where women can have opinions about labor, my mother made it sound like there wasn't much enlightenment. There wasn't really an opinion to have.
I followed my husband and baby up the stairs --the baby who was delivered by her father, in the very bed where she was made. I thought about how different her birth was from my own, how I wasn't just two days late on the pregnancy calendar, but three weeks. And I remembered how I felt ridiculed at times about waiting for my body and baby to decide the time was right, and how, when it was, the birth was just an hour long, and practically pain free, until at the end when I battled fear for a few minutes. And I thought about how my mother's doctor during my pregnancy (but not actually birth) was Robert. A. Bradley (another detail of my birth just revealed to me last night) of the Bradley method, a doctor who dedicated his life to helping women achieve pain-free, natural labor and who, like me, had very strong opinions on the intimacy of birth--an essential component being the father's involvement as explained in his book Husband-Coached Childbirth.
My birth story changed for me last night, but I am not devastated by it. Now I realize my own childbirth ideas and opinions came from something that started long ago, with a mother who didn't know she could have better and a doctor who championed just that.

For more on this topic:
Erin Caroline's Birth Story